Congestion in Oxford

Botley Road Oxford

Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council have launched a major engagement exercise to gather views of residents, commuters and employers affected by congestion in Oxford. Bold proposals announced to reduce congestion for routes into and around Oxford by improving sustainable alternatives to car commuting. Predicted increase in journeys as result of job creation means decisive action is required.

Measures include improving bus routes, particularly to the city’s ‘eastern arc’; traffic restrictions to increase space for cycling and walking routes, and a levy on workplace parking spaces to fund improvements. The public and employers have been asked for their views to feed into developed of detailed, costed proposals.

Oxfordshire County Council and Oxford City Council announced bold plans on 18 September to tackle congestion on all major routes into Oxford and improve public transport connections into and across some parts of the city, particularly the city’s eastern arc (parts of north Oxford, Marston, Headington and Cowley).

The two councils want to make a real improvement to journey times for commuters and quality of life for residents, including improved air quality, by reducing the number of cars travelling into and around the city. The key points of the Connecting Oxford proposal are:

  • Restricting car traffic by introducing additional ‘bus gates’ (similar to the restriction on Oxford’s High Street) across the city to improve journey times for people travelling into and around the city, and so road space can be reallocated to improve walking and cycling routes;
  • New high frequency fast bus routes connecting neighbouring towns and the Park & Rides to Oxford’s eastern arc, which is seeing the greatest growth in employment but is currently less well served by public transport, particularly around the ring road;
  • New and improved cycle and walking routes, including utilising space created by removing vehicles from the road to provide safe and attractive alternatives to driving into and around the city;
  • A charge for workplace parking provided by larger employers in the eastern arc, which would help fund the proposed transport improvements and create a disincentive to drive to work;
  • Discounts for the new bus services would be available for staff of employers paying the workplace parking levy;
  • Improved journey times for commuters driving into and around the city as a result of less congestion;
  • The two councils are now asking for comments and ideas from residents, commuters, businesses, transport operators and other organisations to feed into the detailed development of the proposals. The feedback will be used to develop a detailed project proposal, including a full business case that sets out the costs and benefits of the scheme.

Complementing the traffic management proposals, Oxfordshire County Council approved plans in April 2019 to roll out nine new Controlled Parking Zones (CPZ) across Oxford by 2021. These will also cut traffic by reducing the opportunity for commuters to park in residential streets. The new CPZ areas will be:

  • Hollow Way North
  • Cowley Marsh
  • Lamarsh Road
  • Waterways
  • New Marston
  • Sandhills
  • Cowley East
  • Cowley West
  • Quarry

The proposals for further traffic restrictions and a workplace parking levy follow research undertaken in Oxford for the County Council’s Local Transport Plan, examination of measures applied in other UK cities and experience of transport planning in Oxford. It is believed they would decisively reduce congestion into and around Oxford that is causing growing problems for residents, employers and commuters.

Alternative options including the introduction of a congestion charge have not been completely ruled out, but are not considered to be as effective in reducing congestion and traffic over the long-term.

More than 60% of all journeys into Oxford are presently done by car, with the trend of car-dependency likely to continue as more jobs are created by the city’s thriving local economy. Unless steps are taken to change how people travel this increased demand for travel will overburden the transport network leading to more congestion for Oxfordshire commuters.

The latest figures show that the number of journeys is on track to increase as predicted by a quarter (25%) between 2011 and 2031 unless steps are taken to reduce car-based traffic. In the first half of 2019, there were 65 days – half of all weekdays – when speeds on at least one major road into Oxford fell to under 5mph during the morning rush hour.

Poor public transport connectivity to parts of Oxford means some of the area’s major employment sites have no direct bus service or connection to a Park & Ride site. For those travelling by bus today it can mean using two or more bus services which results in long journey times. For example, travelling from Witney to the Headington area currently takes 82 minutes on a bus in the morning peak.

Severe traffic congestion is also having a negative impact on existing bus services. Oxford Bus Company has confirmed bus speeds in the centre of Oxford are 38% slower than in 2006, and so to ensure the timetable is met it has to put around one third more buses on the road. This, together with falling passenger numbers as a result of the slower journey times, has hit profitability, which is down by two-thirds. If not addressed, this unsustainable trend could see further impact on less profitable city and rural services.

The combination of traffic restrictions and the introduction of a workplace parking levy create positive incentives for commuters and residents to use other modes of transport, and for employers to reduce the incentive to provide free or subsidised parking for staff. Nottingham introduced a workplace parking levy in 2012 that continues to fund improvements to its local bus and tram network.

Reducing traffic volumes allows vehicles to move at around the speed limit, which reduces the need for dedicated bus lanes in some areas. This in turn would free up more road space for dedicated cycle routes. The bus gates similarly help improve space for cycling.

Investment in bus services along with improved walking and cycling routes is part of a positive vision of a sustainable and less congested city as set out in the Local Transport Plan (2015). The proposals will complement the already agreed plan to create a zero emission zone (ZEZ) to tackle poor air quality in Oxford’s city centre.

[story taken from Healthwatch Oxfordshire]

[Picture credit – Oxford Times, July 2018]